A Homily – The Third Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A)

First Reading – Isaiah 8:23-9:3 ©
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 26(27):1, 4, 13-14 ©
Second Reading – 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17 ©
Gospel Acclamation – Matthew 4:23
The Gospel of Matthew 4:12 – 23 ©

(NJB)

The Third Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A)
Listen!

The prophet errs when he ascribes a divine motive, or divine action to any event that transpires here on Earth.

God the creator of the universe, God made us in freedom, and the whole of creation as well.

Be mindful.

God does not confer glory on anyone, on any tribe or any nation, and God does not seek glory for God’s self.

The prophet was wrong to speak this way, his error being the error of human ambition, representing the limits of the human imagination, it is a reflection of our sinful nature and our own obsession with personal pride.

However, the prophet was write to speak of this: to speak of hope like a light shining in the darkness, which once perceived, gladdens the heart and brings us joy.

God’s light shines on us from beyond this world, we will not see the fullness of the divine light until we have left the world behind.
Listen!
It is wise to trust in God.

It is less than wise to have a high esteem of your own self.

Embrace God’s judgment!

This should be easy for a person of faith who knows that God’s judgment never appears without God’s mercy, and that God’s wrath never appears without God’s love.

Do not boast about standing upright. No one is innocent.

God does not need to test you, God already known you, better than you know yourself.

Do not shun your neighbors, even if you perceive them to be frivolous, even if they plot; do not be quick to call them evil. Sit where you are invited, open your door to all; only then will you be in the service of God.

Be mindful of this, at all times be mindful:

A house divided against itself cannot stand, and if it cannot stand then it cannot be used for any good, it will shelter no one, harbor no one, the people cannot gather there, talk together, share a meal together or lift up their voices in song.

Do not look to the pulpit or the person preaching there as the final word on the way.

Look to the teaching of Christ, of Jesus who says this: no greater love can a person show than that they give their life for their brother or sister, and that is exactly what Jesus did when the time came, when he was arrested at Gethsemane, put on trial and killed.

Follow the way: love God with all your strength and all your heart and all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, this is the whole of the law, and all the wisdom of the prophets.

Be mindful, and be wary of the Scriptures, especially when the authors of the text are attempting to fit their narrative of Jesus’ life into a picture that makes it look as if he is fulfilling a prediction made by a prophet from past ages.

In these cases the literal story is always false, it cannot be relied on for anything, even metaphors, if they rest on false foundations they are suspect and should be treated guardedly.

Even if a prediction was made, and even if Jesus did the thing that was predicted, it is false to suggest that Jesus’ actions were in fulfillment of it.

This is the bedrock of truth, and we know it is true because the future is not predetermined, it never has been and it never will be. God, the creator of the universe made us, and creation free.

Prophets only speak of the future for two reasons; to engender hope, and to warn of danger. There is no other purpose and there is no predictive power in it.

The words of a prophet are always addressed to the people in their own time and in their own place. Prophecy is never meant to guide the lives of future generations, except in cases when the prophet is addressing an issue of universal truth, such as the nature of justice, which is itself unchanging.

Listen!

The Gospel writers were propagandists. They fabricated many of the details of Jesus’ life. They fabricated those details to suit their narrative about who Jesus was, why his mission was necessary, and what his life and death meant for the early church.

In this narrative the Gospel writers place Jesus directly in the tradition of John the Baptist, they do it with the words “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”

This is a continuation of that narrative, meant to harness the energy of John’s movement, after his arrest and murder.

The narrative in the Gospel for today informs the reader of this, and that is its main intention.
First Reading – Isaiah 8:23-9:3 ©

In Galilee of the Nations the People has Seen a Great Light

In days past the Lord humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in days to come he will confer glory on the Way of the Sea on the far side of Jordan, province of the nations.

The people that walked in darkness has seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone.

You have made their gladness greater, you have made their joy increase; they rejoice in your presence as men rejoice at harvest time, as men are happy when they are dividing the spoils.

For the yoke that was weighing on him, the bar across his shoulders, the rod of his oppressor – these you break as on the day of Midian.
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 26(27):1, 4, 13-14 ©

The Lord is my light and my help.

The Lord is my light and my help;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
before whom shall I shrink?

The Lord is my light and my help.

There is one thing I ask of the Lord,
for this I long,
to live in the house of the Lord,
all the days of my life,
to savour the sweetness of the Lord,
to behold his temple.

The Lord is my light and my help.

I am sure I shall see the Lord’s goodness
in the land of the living.
Hope in him, hold firm and take heart.
Hope in the Lord!

The Lord is my light and my help.
Second Reading – 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17 ©

Make Up the Differences Between You Instead of Disagreeing Among Yourselves

I appeal to you, brothers, for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, to make up the differences between you, and instead of disagreeing among yourselves, to be united again in your belief and practice. From what Chloe’s people have been telling me, my dear brothers, it is clear that there are serious differences among you. What I mean are all these slogans that you have, like: ‘I am for Paul’, ‘I am for Apollos’, ‘I am for Cephas’, ‘I am for Christ.’ Has Christ been parcelled out? Was it Paul that was crucified for you? Were you baptised in the name of Paul?

For Christ did not send me to baptise, but to preach the Good News, and not to preach that in the terms of philosophy in which the crucifixion of Christ cannot be expressed.
Gospel Acclamation – Matthew 4:23

Alleluia, alleluia!

Jesus proclaimed the Good News of the kingdom
and cured all kinds of sickness among the people.

Alleluia!
Gospel According to Matthew 4:12-23 ©

He Went and Settled in Capernaum: in This Way the Prophecy of Isaiah Was Fulfilled

Hearing that John had been arrested, Jesus went back to Galilee, and leaving Nazareth he went and settled in Capernaum, a lakeside town on the borders of Zebulun and Naphtali. In this way the prophecy of Isaiah was to be fulfilled:

‘Land of Zebulun! Land of Naphtali!
Way of the sea on the far side of Jordan,
Galilee of the nations!
The people that lived in darkness has seen a great light;
on those who dwell in the land and shadow of death
a light has dawned.’

From that moment Jesus began his preaching with the message, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’

As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee he saw two brothers, Simon, who was called Peter, and his brother Andrew; they were making a cast in the lake with their net, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.’ And they left their nets at once and followed him. Going on from there he saw another pair of brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John; they were in their boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. At once, leaving the boat and their father, they followed him.

He went round the whole of Galilee teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom and curing all kinds of diseases and sickness among the people.
The Third Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A)

Martin Luther King Day 2020 – Monday, January 20th

Today we celebrate the life and work of the Reverend Doctor, Martin Luther King Jr., a man who fulfilled the role of prophet in our time, as a voice of conscience, and like so many prophets before him he was killed for speaking the truth.

Martin Luther King was a prophet, not in the sense that he saw the future (though he did), that is not what a prophet does. A prophet is not a seer, or an augurer. He was not a prophet in the sense that he had a unique channel to God, the creator of the universe, or that God spoke to him in a privileged way.

God speaks to all of us in the same way, and that is one of the things that the Reverend Doctor spoke to us about, the responsibility we all have to listen to the demands of our conscience when we here it speaking to our hearts.

Martin Luther King had no more and no less access to supernatural powers than any of us, what made him different was that he chose to listen.

He listened to the voice of God that speaks to each and every one of us. He heard the voice of God and he responded to the call by cleaving to the message and sharing it with the world.

He loved mercy, he worked for justice and he walk humbly, as an example to us all.

There are many memes circulating today of the good Reverend Doctor, memes like the picture I have pasted at the beginning of this essay.

Today we are given countless opportunities to reflect on his likeness, to consider his words, to reflect on their meaning and on the life of an American Saint (if there ever was one), and we are wise to do so.

We are wise to remember the man, Martin Luther King Jr., a rare person whose measure exceeded the ordinary flaws that make us all human, he lived beyond them.

Martin Luther King Jr. transcended even death, though he was taken by the assassin’s bullet. He lives now in our collective consciousness, our collective conscience, in our global psyche, speaking to us from the dimension of myth; a human being who was more than human, a child of God, a man overflowing with grace and wisdom, sharing its cup so that upon drinking we may aspire to do the same.

He spoke truth to power, and offered hope to the powerless, and he was murdered for it.

He was once considered by the director of the F.B.I. to be the most dangerous man in America, and from that status he became our most beloved hero, the prime exemplar of what it means to be an American.

He was beaten and arrested dozens of times for the crime of seeking justice.

His life was threatened daily. His reputation was smeared without regard for the truth, or appreciation for his selfless works.

He was killed for his efforts, shot down, but not destroyed.

He was, and continues to be an example to us all.

Our prophet, The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. still points the way, lighting the long journey that still lies ahead of us, a journey toward justice that will not be denied.

mlk

A Homily – The Second Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A)

First Reading – Isaiah 49:3, 5-6 ©
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 39(40):2, 4, 7-10 ©
Second Reading – 1 Corinthians 1:1-3 ©
Gospel Acclamation – Luke 19:38, 2:14
Alternative Acclamation John 1:14, 12
The Gospel According to John 1:29 – 34 ©

(NJB)

The Second Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A)
Be wary of the voice of God.

Be wary!

Be wary when you hear God speak to you, especially in secret and in private. What you perceive as the voice of God is almost always the voice of your own desires.

Be mindful.

God made us all to be God’s servants, God made us all from light, and to light we shall return.

Listen!

God has provided for our wellness.

Be careful that you do not substitute your will for the will of God, for the will of God who created the universe.

Consider the wisdom of the psalmist who declares that God is the God of mercy, and of listening.

Bend your ear to God; listen with the ear of your heart.

Stretch out your feelings and you will find your way through the troubles of life on Earth, through its filth and misery, as the psalmist says:

Seek salvation, seek wellness, seek freedom from your own sins and do not dwell on the sins of others.

When you are beset with difficulties do not cast blame on others, rather look to yourself, to your own transgressions and seek relief from them by following the way of God, whose command it is to love.

Listen, and be mindful.

We have all been appointed by God to be apostles, to share the gospel, the good news of God’s love for us, and the promise that God has prepared the way for our salvation, for the salvation of humanity, for the salvation of all people in all times and all places.

We are all people of the way; we are all saints in the making.

Remember this!

Jesus is not a lord, he is not our king, he was our brother; Jesus is our friend.

Let us dwell on this for a moment longer; God is not king, or a lord. The creator of the universe does not wear a crown. We do not seek glory as we struggle on the way toward salvation. As we follow Jesus we seek out the lowest of the low, not the highest heaven, we seek to serve those in the deepest dark, returning them to the light of love.

Listen!

Do not repeat the errors of John

Proclaim the truth, we are all born into the family of God; we are God’s children. We are not made the children of God by any power, not by a power that comes from within us, neither by a power that is external to us. We coming into being as children of God, in the Word, by the Word and through the Word.

Our status as children of God is as unconditional as God’s love for us.

Remember this always.

Consider the Gospel for today:

The Gospel of John was written more than one hundred and twenty years after the death of Jesus. None of its authors knew Jesus, or John, and not any of them knew anyone who knew them.

Like all of the other Gospels, John was not written by a single person. It was written by a community of people, and more than any of the other Gospels, it was written as propaganda.

The Gospel of John was written with the intention of arguing for that community’s beliefs about who Jesus was, what the weaning of his life was, and what his death meant to
Christians of their day, it was written to communicate those beliefs to the world.

By the time Johannine Gospel is written, the early church no longer had any concern about ameliorating John the Baptist’s followers, as they did when they earlier gospel’s were drafted. The ethnic Jews in John’s community had either become Christians, or they were considered by the community to be enemies of the nascent Church.

John’s Gospel is overwhelming concerned with depicting Jesus as the cosmic savior. In the Gospel of John, Jesus is the Word of God, who comes to take away the sins of the World.

Jesus is God.

When John the Baptist encounters Jesus, he provides witness for this.

The Baptist does not Baptize Jesus, as he does in the other Gospels, even though he, himself is busy at the work of baptizing.

When he sees Jesus approach, he announces to his followers that Jesus has come, a man greater than himself, one who existed before him (even though he was born in time after him), one on whom the Spirit of God rests, one who will complete the baptism of every believer, because he will baptize them with Holy Spirit and not mere water.

The Gospel of John was the crowning achievement of the early Christian propaganda. Through this vehicle the Church transformed the man, Joshua son of Joseph, into the being through whom the entire universe came into existence.

And this is fine, but it must be understood for what it is, as the expressions of faith and hope, not the recitation of history and fact; it is metaphor, allegory and myth.
First Reading – Isaiah 49:3, 5-6 ©

I Will Make You the Light of the Nations so that My Salvation May Reach to the Ends of the Earth

The Lord said to me, ‘You are my servant, Israel, in whom I shall be glorified’; I was honoured in the eyes of the Lord, my God was my strength.

And now the Lord has spoken, he who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, to gather Israel to him:

‘It is not enough for you to be my servant, to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back the survivors of Israel; I will make you the light of the nations so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.’
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 39(40):2, 4, 7-10 ©

Here I am, Lord! I come to do your will.

I waited, I waited for the Lord
and he stooped down to me;
he heard my cry.
He put a new song into my mouth,
praise of our God.

Here I am, Lord! I come to do your will.

You do not ask for sacrifice and offerings,
but an open ear.
You do not ask for holocaust and victim.
Instead, here am I.

Here I am, Lord! I come to do your will.

In the scroll of the book it stands written
that I should do your will.
My God, I delight in your law
in the depth of my heart.

Here I am, Lord! I come to do your will.

Your justice I have proclaimed
in the great assembly.
My lips I have not sealed;
you know it, O Lord.

Here I am, Lord! I come to do your will.
Second Reading – 1 Corinthians 1:1-3 ©

May God the Father and Our Lord Jesus Christ Send You Grace and Peace

I, Paul, appointed by God to be an apostle, together with brother Sosthenes, send greetings to the church of God in Corinth, to the holy people of Jesus Christ, who are called to take their place among all the saints everywhere who pray to our Lord Jesus Christ; for he is their Lord no less than ours. May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ send you grace and peace.
Gospel Acclamation – Luke 19:38, 2:14

Alleluia, alleluia!

Blessings on the King who comes,
in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven
and glory in the highest heavens!

Alleluia!

Alternative Acclamation John 1:14, 12

Alleluia, alleluia!

The Word was made flesh and lived among us:
to all who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God.

Alleluia!
The Gospel According to John 1:29 – 34 ©

‘Look: there is the Lamb of God’

Seeing Jesus coming towards him, John said, ‘Look, there is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. This is the one I spoke of when I said: A man is coming after me who ranks before me because he existed before me. I did not know him myself, and yet it was to reveal him to Israel that I came baptising with water.’ John also declared, ‘I saw the Spirit coming down on him from heaven like a dove and resting on him. I did not know him myself, but he who sent me to baptise with water had said to me, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and rest is the one who is going to baptise with the Holy Spirit.” Yes, I have seen and I am the witness that he is the Chosen One of God.’
The Second Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A)

A Homily – The First Sunday of Christmas (Year A)

First Reading – Ecclesiasticus 3:2-6, 12-14 ©
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 127(128):1-5 ©
Second Reading – Colossians 3:12-21 ©
Gospel Acclamation – Colossians 3:15, 16
The Gospel According to Matthew 2:13 -15, 19 – 23 ©

(NJB)

The First Sunday of Christmas (Year A)
Be mindful.

There is wisdom in the writings of Ecclisasticus and also falsehood, they are presented as binary readings of the same precept:

Honor your father and mother.

Honor them, but do not expect a reward for it, neither from heaven or even from them, for there are no guarantees in this life.

Honor you mother and father, your sisters and brothers, your cousins, your aunts and uncles, your nieces and nephews, honor them all. Honor your teachers and your classmates, your co-workers and your employers, honor the stranger who comes into your midst, honor them all.

Honoring people is good in its own right. You honor yourself in doing so, and through the service you give to anyone, whether they be near or far from you, through that service you also honor God.

Live a life of honor, do it without the thought of reward to yourself.

Do not fear God. There is no blessing in it. Fear is not a blessing, rather fear is the path to sin and darkness.

Trust God, have faith in confidence in God’s love.

Remember God’s servant, Job. Remember that the Sun will burn you, in the same way that it will warm you; the sun will scorch the earth in the same way that it pours its energy in to the crops.

God sends the rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike.

Be mindful of this wisdom.

God, the creator of the universe, God is loving, compassionate, and wise.

God created all of us with the capacity for each of those qualities, but God also created us in freedom, and we are capable of much more.

We are capable of the opposite.

God has chosen you, as God has chosen everyone. We are all of us, God’s children.

Be loving and compassionate, pour your good will out on all of your sisters and brothers. Do not just mimic the expression of love you are most fond of finding in the world, do the hard work, love even those you do not wish to love.

Let your love for God unify everything you do as God’s servant, volunteer to be of service to the whole of humanity.

Listen!

A life of faith requires support and nourishment, we need it from those near to us. It is not absolutely necessary, but it is most helpful. You may practice your faith in isolation, but it is more difficult. The life of faith is not meant to be lived in a vacuum, it comes to full fruition through our relationships and in community.

Live a life of prayer; yes, but the Apostle is wrong to ask you to do all things in the name of God.

Do what you do in your own name. Take responsibility for your actions, both good and bad, whether they were well intentioned or ill, whether you succeed or fail.

Strive to live a life of prayer.

If you are living and working for God; in whatever industry, in whatever capacity, at whatever calling has come to you through the world, you will be doing it on behalf of your neighbor, your sisters and brothers, your fellow human beings.

You will be working for the benefit of all people, now and in all generations yet to come.

If your work does not allow to you to do this…abandon it.

Be mindful!

There is nothing instructive in the Gospel for today. There is nothing at all in the reading that concerns the way that Jesus instructed us to follow.

What we are given is propaganda and myth, the scriptures are replete with them.

The story cannot be taken for history, it represents an effort by the gospel writers to make Jesus’ life into something analogous to the birth narrative of Moses, to set Jesus in that same tradition, which they succeeded in doing because the narrative of Moses’ birth is also a myth.

It continues the anti-royalist, anti-Herodian tradition of both the Jews of the diaspora and the early Christians.

It qualifies as propaganda insofar as the authors state their motive in connecting the travel and adventures of the holy family to specific prophecies in scripture, they believe that by doing this they are successfully bolstering Jesus’ credentials.

Jesus did not need his credentials bolstered in this way.

Passages such as these teach us little.
First Reading – Ecclesiasticus 3:2-6, 12-14 ©

He Who Fears the Lord Respects His Parents
The Lord honours the father in his children, and upholds the rights of a mother over her sons.

Whoever respects his father is atoning for his sins, he who honours his mother is like someone amassing a fortune.

Whoever respects his father will be happy with children of his own, he shall be heard on the day when he prays.

Long life comes to him who honours his father, he who sets his mother at ease is showing obedience to the Lord.

My son, support your father in his old age, do not grieve him during his life.

Even if his mind should fail, show him sympathy, do not despise him in your health and strength; for kindness to a father shall not be forgotten but will serve as reparation for your sins.
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 127(128):1-5 ©

O blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways!

O blessed are those who fear the Lord
and walk in his ways!
By the labour of your hands you shall eat.
You will be happy and prosper.

O blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways!

Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
in the heart of your house;
your children like shoots of the olive,
around your table.

O blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways!

Indeed thus shall be blessed
the man who fears the Lord.
May the Lord bless you from Zion
all the days of your life!

O blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways!
Second Reading – Colossians 3:12-21 ©

Family Life in the Lord

You are God’s chosen race, his saints; he loves you, and you should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive each other as soon as a quarrel begins. The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same. Over all these clothes, to keep them together and complete them, put on love. And may the peace of Christ reign in your hearts, because it is for this that you were called together as parts of one body. Always be thankful.

Let the message of Christ, in all its richness, find a home with you. Teach each other, and advise each other, in all wisdom. With gratitude in your hearts sing psalms and hymns and inspired songs to God; and never say or do anything except in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Wives, give way to your husbands, as you should in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and treat them with gentleness. Children, be obedient to your parents always, because that is what will please the Lord. Parents, never drive your children to resentment or you will make them feel frustrated.
Gospel Acclamation – Colossians 3:15, 16

Alleluia, alleluia!

May the peace of Christ reign in your hearts;
let the message of Christ find a home with you.

Alleluia!
The Gospel According to Matthew 2:13 -15, 19 – 23 ©

The Flight into Egypt and the Return to Nazareth

After the wise men had left, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother with you, and escape into Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, because Herod intends to search for the child and do away with him.’ So Joseph got up and, taking the child and his mother with him, left that night for Egypt, where he stayed until Herod was dead. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken through the prophet:

I called my son out of Egypt.

After Herod’s death, the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother with you and go back to the land of Israel, for those who wanted to kill the child are dead.’ So Joseph got up and, taking the child and his mother with him, went back to the land of Israel. But when he learnt that Archelaus had succeeded his father Herod as ruler of Judaea he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he left for the region of Galilee. There he settled in a town called Nazareth. In this way the words spoken through the prophets were to be fulfilled:

‘He will be called a Nazarene.’
The First Sunday of Christmas (Year A)

On Jesus and Mithra et al…A Holiday Reflection

Everything we know about Jesus is tangled in myth. The narrative of his birth and childhood are a complete fiction. Even the narrative of his adult ministry, beginning around the year 30 CE, is imbued with metaphor and allegory, so much so that none of it is reliable as history.

The narrative that we have received from the tradition is so thoroughly syncretized to the broader cultural context of the Near East that we do not even refer to him by his given name; Joshua son of Joseph, instead we call him by a Greek variant that ignores his genealogy, calling him Jesus of Nazareth instead.

If we desire to understand this story (as we should), if we desire to understand how it came to be in the form we have received it in, then we must engage that broader narrative. We must engage the complete societal and theological context from which the Christian myth emerged. We must journey beyond the Palestinian crossroads that was ancient Judea, we must go beyond the Greco-Roman world, the great Pan-Hellenic civilization, and we must go to Persia. That is where the story begins, with the hero Mithra.

The “Cult of Mithras” is understudied by historians. It is commonly regarded by scholars as merely one of many religious movements that competed with the early Christian Church for the devotion of the masses.

The Cult of Mithras was much more than that.

Mithraic worship, as it was practiced by the Romans, (principally by members of the Roman army) in the first four centuries of the common era, has its roots in ancient Persia. It is an offshoot of Zoroastrianism (c. 700 BCE), evolving through the centuries until it reached its final form as a “mystery cult” within the Roman army.

Throughout its evolution, and propelled by the extensive influence of the Persian Empire, Mithraism had a significant impact on every society it encountered, and on every form of worship in the Mediterranean region, the Near East and Southwest Asia.

This essay is an attempt to communicate the multiple ways by which Mithraism has influenced the development of other faith traditions, but most importantly the Judea-Christian tradition, and most significantly our beliefs about Jesus, including the mystery of his birth.

Scholarship on Mithraism is scant. Most research tends to downplay the connection between the form of Mithraism that was practiced by the Roman army, and the ancient form of Mithraism that was practiced in the heart of Persia. To justify this, scholars will site some obvious iconographic and liturgical differences between the two forms of worship, as if to say that the presence of a few notable, but nevertheless subtle differences is enough evidence to argue for a complete separation and distinction between the traditions. These conclusions are commonly drawn despite the greater number of obvious similarities between them.

The following paragraph from David Ulansey’s book The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries illustrates this point clearly. He says:

“The Western mystery cult of Mithraism as it appeared in the Roman Empire derived its very identity from a number of characteristics which were completely absent from the Iranian worship of Mithra: a series of initiations into ever higher levels of the cult accompanied by strict secrecy about the cult’s doctrines; the distinctive cave like temples in which the cult’s devotees met; and, most important, the iconography of the cult, in particular the tauroctony. None of these essential characteristics of Western Mithraism were to be found in the Iranian worship of Mithra. ”

Some of Ulansey’s predecessors have suggested that the differences between the Persian-Iranian form of Mithraism and that of the Roman army are the product of natural transformations that occur in all belief systems as they move from one culture to another across great expanses of geography and time.

They are correct.

Ulansey’s particular criticisms have to do with extrinsic matters of form and ritual activity, the types of structures that we would expect to change over time and distance, as they incorporate the experiences of descending generations of their adherents in them.

The seven stages of initiation, the tauroctony (slaying of the bull), the codes of secrecy, and the type of temple worship have little to do with the central tenets of Mithraism, the closely held beliefs that had existed within the doctrine from the earliest times in Persia, through its final incarnation as a Roman mystery cult. The central teaching remains the same, the most significant of which are; a belief in the immortality of the soul, and the notion of personal salvation.

In the ancient Persian form Mithraism; Mithra is a demi-god. He is viewed as the incarnated scion of Ahura-Mahzda, and Ahura-Mahzda is believed to be the source of all goodness, creator of the Universe, a God of light and source of all-life.

Some scholars believe that in its original form; Mithraism was strictly monotheistic (perhaps the first truly monotheistic belief system), holding that Ahura-Mahzda was the only deity, and that there were no others.

However, if Mithraism was originally monotheistic, at some point in its early evolution the belief system devolved into dualism. Mithraic doctrine established the existence of another deity, as a counterpart to Ahura-Mahzda, and together they formed a pantheon of sorts.

This secondary deity was given the name Angra-Mainyu (from whose name we have derived the term anger). Angra-Mainyu was believed to be the “uncreated” source of evil in the world, whose agency was cast n diametric opposition to the light and life of Ahura-Mahzda.

This dualistic view of reality suggested that the drama of our lives on Earth is a reflection of the struggle between these two cosmic powers. This clearly defined dualism would be of great relevance to both Judaism and Christianity in the centuries to come.

In the later form of Mithraism, that of the Roman Empire, the demi-god Mithra is depicted in that same relationship to the high God as in the Persian form. In this cultural context, the high God is given the name Sol Invictus and is iconographically represented as the sun. Mithra is the hero, demi-god and the offspring of Sol, incarnated son.

While this form of Mithraic worship is best understood as belonging to Rome, it should be noted that the cult of Sol Invictus, was also prevalent in Gaul prior to the Roman conquest of the Celts.

In both the ancient Persian form of Mithraism and the Roman form of Mithraism, the demi-god Mithra is seen as being sent to Earth by the deity responsible for the creation of the universe. In the former tradition this is Ahura-Mahzda, in the latter tradition this is Sol Invictus.

In the Roman form of Mithraism the purpose of sending Mithra to Earth is for him to slay the “Primal Bull.” Upon slaying the bull, Mithra and Sol Invictus feast together from its flesh. This feast has the effect that Mithra and Sol become con-joinedbecause they have dined together, they are now “one.”

Sol and Mithra are joined together as one being with coextensive attributes, each sharing the title Invictus, meaning unconquered. In Roman Mithraism this meal was considered to be the effective means of salvation for all human beings, and that by participating in a recreation of the sacred meal, properly sequenced through the rites of initiation, the individual would become one with Mithra and therefore one with Sol Invictus, thereby gaining access to the heavenly worlds of the afterlife. This is nearly identical to the Christian theology underpinning the sacrament of Communion.

As I indicated earlier in my reference to Ulansey’s work, Persian Mithraism did not depict Mithra as the “bull-slayer.” The narrative from Persia is as follows:

Mithra does not kill the primal-bull, rather Mithra and the bull are sent to Earth by Ahura-Mahzda, where they are assailed by the “evil-one,” Angra-Mainyu, who himself slays Mithra and the bull together in an act of violence.

Then Angra-Mainyu attempts to destroy Mithra and the bull utterly, but his efforts are frustrated by Ahura-Mazda. Through Ahura-Mazda’s power, stalks of wheat and the grape vine spring from the carcass of the bull. All manner of good things and good creatures flow from the god of light, through the bull to fill and populate the created world, so that those good things and creatures may be used for the benefit of human beings.

Ahura-Mahzda trasforms the violence of Angra-Mainyu into a new creation. New life springs from the bull, and Mithra is restored, returning to Ahura-Mahzda in the heavens.

There is no significant discrepancy between these two forms of the myth.

In both versions of the myth, Mithra is sent to Earth by a god of greater authority than himself.

In both versions of the myth, the bull is slain and its death is productive; both of new life, and of all good things on the Earth.

In the Roman version of the myth, the slaying of the bull is an explicit sacrifice.

In the Persian version of the myth, the intentionality of the sacrifice is implicit.

The Roman version is not etiological, it does not address the origins of life on Earth, the Persian version is.

The Roman version is primarily a teleological myth having to do with human destiny, salvation, and the life of the immortal soul, it is teleological and eschatological, insofar as it address the final resolution of evil in the world, and the end to conflict. The Persian version balances these two concerns.

In the Persian account, Mithra and the Bull are sent to Earth by the creator deity; their death is a vehicle by which the drama of life on Earth begins, making it a cosmogonic myth of origins.

The death of Mithra and the primal-bull, while being the result of violence perpetrated by the “evil-one” does not serve the interest of Angra-Mainyu, but serves the interest of Ahura-Mahzda instead.

Mithra does not die. His soul is immortal, and he returns to the heavens.

From the body of the bull comes an abundance of life, demonstrating that Ahura-Mahzda is greater than Angra-Mainyu, greater because the god of light not only has the power to create goodness sui generous (in itself), but also has the power to bring good out of evil; making the fruit of the labor of Angra-Mainyu effectively nothing. This profound hope is apparent within the structure of myth itself.

In both the Roman and the Persian versions of the myth, the death of the primal bull is emblematic of life for the world.

It is the creation of life itself, and it is life restored.

The principal actor in both versions of the myth is the creator god, figured as either Ahura-Mahzda, or Sol Invictus in their respective cultures.

Whether it is Mithra who kills the bull, or Angra-Mainyu, this does not matter. The slaying of the bull serves the purpose of the principal actor, Ahura-Mahzda/Sol Invictus, god of life, god of light, god of good.

Having articulated some of the principle differences between the Persian and Roman forms of Mithraism, let us now turn to what is most consistent and significant in the worship of Mithra in both cultures, from c. 700 BCE through c. 400 CE, from Rome to Persia.

This is the belief in the immortality of the soul and the notion of personal salvation.

In Mithraism, this theology underwent a profound development that would have a lasting and significant impact on other faith traditions in the Near East and broader Mediterranean world

There are several clues that we can follow to give us this story. These clues will help us understand the significance of Mithraism in relation to other Mediterranean religions; especially Judaism and Christianity, we do not have to go any farther than the Hebrew and Christian scriptures to see and understand this influence.

A close study of the Hebrew scriptures reveals that the Jewish people did not always have (and do not now have) a strong belief in either the immortality of the soul, or the afterlife. However, there was a period of time in which these beliefs did flourish, and in that time Christianity emerged.

After the Babylonian exile, which began in 586 BCE, these beliefs enter the Hebrew tradition, and over the next few centuries they become more clearly developed, especially among those Jewish communities remaining in the diaspora, living outside of Palestine, the former kingdoms of Israel and Judea.

Jews living in the diaspora made up the majority of the Jewish people living in the world at that time. At the time of Jesus, throughout Rome and its provinces it is believed that Jews made up as much as ten percent of the total population of free people, making the Jews of the diaspora a majority among their people.

When the Jewish people were released from captivity in Babylon, it was the Persians who had recently conquered that Babylonians, who granted them their freedom. It happened during the reign of the Persian king Cyrus.

Cyrus is depicted by the Jewish people in the Hebrew scriptures, as a servant of their God, Yahweh:

“22 In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia—to fulfil the word of Yahweh through Jeremiah—Yahweh roused the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia to issue a proclamation and to have it publicly displayed throughout his kingdom. 23 ‘Cyrus king of Persia says this, “Yahweh, the God of Heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and has appointed me to build him a Temple in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all his people, may his God be with him! Let him go up.”’ ”

This passage does not shed any light on what Cyrus’s theological disposition might have actually been, or what his personal beliefs were. Whatever that theology was (or was perceived to be), we can surmise that his beliefs and the beliefs of the Persian court did not present a significant conflict with Hebrew theology at that time.

At this time, the Persian court had been in full adherence to the principles and teaching of Zoroastrianism for at one hundred and fifty years, which is to say that they were Mithraites.

What this passage indicates is that there was no essential antagonism between the theological claims of the two cultures. Furthermore, it is likely that Cyrus or his priests, or both, saw a considerable amount of compatibility between the faiths of the two cultures and their systems of belief.

At this time, Persian Mithraism and Judaism were both essentially monotheistic, though neither of them were perfectly so. They were monotheistic faith systems which held as a basic tenet of belief that creation was good, created by a good god, for a good purpose, redounding to the benefit of humanity.

Mithraism had a strongly held belief in the immortality of the soul. At this time Judaism did not, but immediately following this period a movement within Judaism would develop its belief in the immortality of the soul in profoundly consequential ways. The adherents of this new movement within the Hebrew culture became known as the Pharisees.

The designation Pharisee, is derived from the name of the Persian priests of Zoroaster who were called the Parsees. This serves as etymological evidence that clearly shows the intimate connection between Pharisaic Judaism and the religious traditions of the Persian Empire.

This is not a causal relationship, but a relationship of influence.

Even in Jesus’ time, 500 years after the Babylonian exile; belief in the immortality of the soul had not fully entered the mainstream of Jewish life, especially inside the borders of Palestine, in Samaria and Judea. This belief system was primarily taught by the Pharisees, and the Essenes in the remote desert community of Qumran (a pharisaic sect).

Belief in the immortality of the soul was popular among Jewish people for whom the synagogue was the center of their faith life, and not the temple in Jerusalem. The Jewish Qabalah was also born in this popular tradition, the Pharisaic Judaism of the diaspora.

In addition to belief in the immortality of the soul, the Pharisees and the Essenes of Qumran, also had significantly developed angelologies. This belief in the existence of angels (divine messengers) was another matter that took a long time to develop in Judaism, but which was already present in Mithraism at the time of the Babylonian exile.

In fact, our word “angel,” meaning divine messenger, comes to English, from the Greek angelos, which is itself derived from the Persian word, angaros, meaning courier.

Many scholars say that it is impossible to state with certainty that the Pharisees received these teachings directly from the Parsees when they were exposed to Mithraism at the time of the Babylonian captivity.

I will tell you this, certitude may not be possible, but it is also impossible to rule it out.

What we can say for certain, is that the Pharisees came into existence just after the Babylonian exile, and it is beyond reasonable probability to suggests that Pharisaic beliefs developed independently of Mithraism, I do not believe in that type of coincidence. Therefore we conclude that the Pharisaic movement within Judaism is an example of pure theological syncretism, the cultural purchase by the Hebrews of an earlier Persian theology.

The Babylonian exile and the subsequent release of the Jewish people by the Persian king Cyrus were the first of many major streams of influence that Mithraism would have on the Judeo-Christian tradition. We will move slowly through a discussion of the others.

Prior to the Babylonian exile; a belief in angels and the immortality of the soul did not exist as fully developed doctrines, but they did exist in germ, in a latent form, insofar as they were the generalized beliefs permeating the Mediterranean region and the Near East at that time.

It should be noted that in most Mediterranean and Near Eastern traditions, the concept of a blessed afterlife, to the extent that such ideas existed, included the idea that those blessed places were reserved for people of notable and heroic stature.

Because common people, and slaves did not have the ability to lead a heroic or notable life, they had no hope of enjoying a blessed state in the hereafter.

Mithraism, and in more significant ways Christianity changed all of that; they changed this basic paradigm by promising the hope of salvation to anyone, regardless of gender and class, rank or status. Through these religions, common people and outcasts were able to entertain hopes of a blessed afterlife if, and only if they sought to align themselves with the god of creation, the god of light, and the god goodness, through an initiation into their mysteries.

In the first century BCE, the most important center for Mithraic worship in the Hellenistic world was in the region of Cilicia, in the city of Tarsus. The patron deity of this city was the Greek demi-god Perseus, officially. but as Ulansey points out, Perseus, as he was worshipped in Tarsus, was identical to the Persian Mithra in almost every way.

In his journals, the Roman general Pompey points out the fact that the people of Tarsus worship Mithra and this is the point of origin for the spread of the Cult of Mithra (from the East) into the Roman world.

I want to preface my discussion of the relationship between Mithra and Perseus with an acknowledgement of the profuse pluralism at work in the Greco-Roman, Pan-Hellenic world at this time. Parallels to Mithra and Perseus can be found in the stories of many other heroes. Not all of the adventures attributed to Perseus should be attributed to Mithra, and vice versa. In the Greco-Roman world, the gods and heroes were regarded differently, in different cities, and different regions, at different times. The heroes and gods in Greco-Roman mythology are extremely malleable and blend with one another quite extensively. However, in Tarsus the parallels between Mithra and Perseus go deep, and they are important; as I will demonstrate:

“According to Plutarch, Mithraism began among the pirates of Cilicia, the province bordering on the southern coast of Asia Minor. These pirates, whose ships ‘numbered more than a thousand, and the cities captured by them four hundred,’ and whom Pompey was sent to subdue in 67 BCE, ‘offered strange rites of there own at Olympus, and celebrated there certain secret rites among which those of Mithras continue to the present time having been first instituted by them.’…For our purposes, the most important aspect of Plutarch’s evidence tracing the origins of Mithraism to the region of Cilicia is the fact that Cilicia—and in particular its capitol city of Tarsus—was the home of a deeply rooted cult of the hero Perseus. ”

Among the Greeks Perseus was considered to be the founder of the city of Tarsus, a city bearing the name of the “Primal-Bull,” Taurus.

Let us note that Perseus, like Mithra, is intimately linked to the sun, referred to in the Greco-Roman myths as either: Apollo, Helios or Sol.

Sometimes Apollo is depicted as making oblations before Perseus, just as Sol is sometimes depicted as kneeling before Mithra. The order is reversed at other times, with Mithra or Perseus kneeling before the deity representing the sun, this is done in keeping with the themes of mutuality, and co-extensive identity between the god-hero, the hero and the god. The two are one.

In Greek mythology Perseus is strongly connected with the Persian Empire.

The Greeks believed that Perses, the son of Perseus and Andromeda, was the founder of the Persian Empire. Furthermore, Perseus is always depicted as wearing a Phrygian cap indicating his Asiatic (read Persian) origins.

“The evidence for a connection between the figures of Mithras and Perseus is of three kinds: first, there is the astronomical evidence consisting of the fact that the constellation Perseus occupies a position in the sky exactly analogous to that occupied by Mithras in the tauroctony; second, there are a number of striking iconographical and mythological parallels between the two figures, such as Perseus’ Phrygian cap, his connection with Persia, and the fact that like Perseus, Mithras always looks away from his victim; third there is the historical-geographical evidence linking the origins of Mithraism with Cilicia, the site of an important Perseus cult. ”

The astronomical evidence cited above concerns the fact that the constellation Mithra-Perseus is located directly above the constellation of Taurus the bull, making it so that if the two constellations are viewed together the figure of Mithra-Perseus is seen kneeling on the back of the bull, sword in hand, ready to make the ritual cut while looking away from the sacrificial victim, just as Mithra is always depicted in Mithraic artwork depicting the Tauroctony in Mithraic temples.

These similarities are too many to ignore.

The Cults of Mithra, and Perseus were the dominant cults of the city. Each of these Gods are depicted time and time again on Tarsian coins. Perseus is the patron deity of the city, and the city itself is named after the “Primal Bull” of Mithraic worship.

In the city of Tarsus, Mithra is Perseus, at least insofar as the way in which they were worshipped. The city of Tarsus also figures prominently in the syncretism between Mithraism and Christianity.

Tarsus is an old town, it originated as a Hittite city in the second millennium BCE. The Greek historian and geographer Strabo notes that by the first century BCE, it was a significant intellectual center “surpassing Athens and Alexandria.” It was known for its astronomers and produced the renowned philosophers Athenodorus and Nestor. More significant to our thesis is this, it was the birthplace, and home of Saint Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles, a Jew and a Pharisee, and the most prominent writer of the early Christian Church.

There is no research explicitly stating that Paul was aware of, or was influenced by Mithraism, but to suggest that Paul would not have been aware of the basic tenets of belief promoted by the major Cult of the city he called home, that would be improbable in the extreme.

Paul was a learned man, and a figure of authority. In addition, Paul was a Pharisee. As I have already indicated in my introduction to the origins of the Pharisaic sect; the beliefs that Pharisees and Mithraites shared included beliefs about the immortality of the soul, the notion of personal salvation and the ministry of angels.

If Paul was not directly influenced by Mithraism he was indirectly influenced by Mithraic ideas, a conclusion we may draw simply by virtue of the fact that Paul was a Pharisee.

Furthermore, the prominence of his ministry, and its influence on Christian doctrine, constitutes a second infusion of Persian cosmology and theology, and of Persian soterieology into the Judeo-Christian tradition, the first being located within the timeframe of the Babylonian exile, and subsequent diaspora.

I do not contend that through Mithraism anything substantially “new” was imparted to the burgeoning Christian movement, but that the prevailing ideas of the “Persian-Mithraic worldview” were syncretized and concretized by the early church in a way which made it compatible with the form of Mithraism that had been spreading in the Roman Empire.

By the fourth century CE Mithraism had spread both through the travel of merchants, and through the Roman army, spreading as far North as Hadrian’s wall in Bremenium, and as far West as Olisipo on the Western coast of Spain; it had permeated the Roman provinces of North Africa and Egypt, and it was thriving in its home land of Persia; stretching its influence all the way across the Persian Empire to India.

As much as two percent of the population of the Roman Empire may have been initiated into the mysteries of the Cult of Mithra.

The traditional date to celebrate the birth of Mithra, going back as far as 750 BCE, is a date significant in the Roman calendar also, known as the Saturnalius, December 25th. This date is also the celebrated birthday of such notable people as Julius Caesar, his son by adoption Caesar Augustus, as well as the first Christian emperor, Constantine; and most famously Jesus of Nazareth.

The fact that all of these people shared the same birthday does not constitute proof of anything regarding the relationship between Mithraism and Christianity. The Romans used a different calendar in those days, and in that time December 25th was the date of the winter solstice. The solstice was celebrated in nearly every culture in the Northern hemisphere, because it is that point in the yearly cycle that the light returns, the days get longer, and the deepest dark of winter recedes.

Among the Romans, the Cult of Mithra was a “mystery religion,” meaning that it was secretive, it was closed to anyone that did not go through a significant ritual of initiation, and like other mystery religions, it purported to disclose to its initiates the mysteries of the universe.

Outside of Persia, the main adherents of the Cult of Mithra were members of the Roman army. There is no evidence that Mithraites were ever persecuted as Christians were, but like a number of other closed societies in ancient Rome, they had to keep to themselves and guard their secrets out of concern for the paranoid mindset of the Roman emperors. All manner of private groups, trade guilds, and burial societies, were periodically outlawed by one emperor or another, on account of the fact that most of the emperors were insecure in their power, and were constantly suspicious of treason.

The fact that the Cult of Mithra recruited many of its members from the Roman army probably spared it from persecution because the emperors always ruled by fragile alliances, and loose coalitions with the army insofar as they were always dependent on its power. If the emperors were to alienate large groups of their supporters (the army) through a persecution of their faith, it was guaranteed that they would be unable to hold onto their rule.

As I noted earlier, Ulansey saw the secrecy of the cult of Mithra, as practiced in the Roman Empire, as something distinct from the Persian form of Mithraism. There are differences between the two systems of belief, but not so great as to merit the claim that they are distinct from one another. A close look at the structure of these religious systems; their icons, rituals and beliefs will reveal crucial things about that relationship and how close it was, as well as the close relationship between Mithraism and Christianity.

AS I have noted already, in the Persian form of Mithraism (also referred to as Zoarastrianism), the priests were called Parsees, while outside of Persia they were known as the Magi. It is from the Magi that we have derived the term magic.

The Magi are of historical significance to the history of Christianity.

The Magi are present in the infancy narrative of Matthew. They give witness to the birth of Jesus. In the Gospels they were presented as wise men, and astronomers, just as the priests of Mithras and Zoroaster were in actuality.

Because the infancy narrative of Matthew is myth, which is to say that it is not an accurate retelling of history, rather it is a composed and tightly controlled theological statement, allowing us to conclude that the presence of the Magi in this narrative is not accidental. It is purposeful and therefore indicative of the sympathetic relationship between early Christians, and first century CE Mithraites.

Why would a sympathetic relationship exist?

Both Christians and Mithraites believed in the immortality of the soul, the reality of personal salvation, the ministry of the angelic host, a god of goodness and light, as well as the expectation of a final battle with the cosmic forces of darkness, sin and evil.

In the Roman world, by the first century CE, Mithra had taken on the aspect of the incarnate son, Sol Invictus. Furthermore, in his exalted state, after the feast he prepared from the flesh of the “Primal Bull,” Mithra is seen as being identical to Sol.

Mithra like Christ is seen as being a mediator between Heaven and Earth, responsible for guiding the souls of the elect to paradise. The iconographic similarities explain the sympatico between the two faiths.

Ulansey stated that the worship of Mithra in caves, as it was done among the Romans, was markedly distinct from the Persian form of worship, saying that we cannot explain this as something that occurred by way of a natural syncretic transformation. However, to dispute Ulansey’s claim, we can easily identify a path of transformation through the cult of Perseus, the patron deity of Tarsus.

Note well, as stated earlier, in the iconography of the city of Tarsus, Perseus and Mithra are one and the same entity.

Perseus is the son of the Titan Zeus, king of the Olympians and the human Danae. The symbolism in their union is profound. When Zeus impregnates Danae he comes to her in the form of a shower of gold; not in the form of a human being, or any other type of animal (as was often the case with Zeus). The impregnation of Danae by a shower of gold is the only scene like this depicted in all of the Greek mythologies. This is to say that Zeus impregnates Danae in his spirit form, through the exalted and ephemeral medium of a “golden-mist.” This is the most idealized and spiritual form Zeus could take.

The impregnation of Danae in this manner, and the subsequent birth of Perseus, is the closest thing in all of the Greek mythologies to a “virgin birth.” It is a conception narrative analogous to that of Mary conceiving Jesus by the Holy Spirit. Danae subsequently gives birth to Perseus in an underground cavern, she remains a virgin, never having been touched by the hands of men.

In astronomy the figure of Taurus (the Primal Bull) is the primary symbol of earth. Insofar as Mithra is transformed and exalted through the death and “new-life” of the bull, Mithra is also born of the earth.

As a result, the iconographic narratives of the births of both Perseus and Mithra, often depict them as emerging from a rock, and it is not unreasonable to suppose that the underground worship of Mithra served to highlight these features.

Symbolically, the earth is the womb wherein we are nurtured, from which we are born, like Mithra and like Perseus, from the womb of the earth we are born into new life.

Practically, the worship of Mithra in underground caverns had the effect of limiting Mithraic circles to small groups of people. The worship of Mithra is thought to have been exclusively male, though some scholars believe that in some regions women had their own form of Mithraic devotion.

In army outposts on the fringes of the Empire, the worship chambers were often very small, consisting of a narrow room with rows of benches, and not necessarily undeground.

In urban centers the size and splendor of the temples varied with the demographics of the cities they were in, from simple to ostentatious. However, it remains the case that most Mithraic worship places were small, and intimate. The intimacy of these temples bears a close similarity to the “house churches” of the early Christians. Many of the Mithraic temples found in Roman cities, such as Ostia, were converted to Christian worship after the Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity.

As noted, among the Romans, Mithraism, like Christianity was centered in the “house church.” The practice was carried out among people who were intimate with one another. Individual practitioners believed that initiation into the mysteries allowed them to receive immortality through Mithra, but also as a part of a community.

Mithraism, like Christianity promoted the notion that its teachings would transform the individual spiritually, while leaving them in the same social position. The transformation of the individual was interior. It took place in the heart. It manifested itself in their position in the life of the Mithraic temple or Mithraic shrine as they advanced through the stages of initiation, but that did not mean that their status, or rank outside of the Mithraic community would change. A slave would remain a slave, a plebian would remain a plebian.

The activities of the cult were closed to the general society, they were secret and mysterious, and therefore not a cause for disturbance in the social order outside of the community.
In Roman Mithraism there were seven stages of initiation; the Crow, the Griffin, the Soldier, the Lion, the Persian, the Helio-Dromus (or Sun-Runner), and finally the Father. The symbolism of the number seven should not be lost on us, as in Christianity, there are seven sacraments, seven virtues, seven deadly sins etc…

The Order of Initiates were grouped in two classes; those in the first four stages counted as one class, and the last three stages counted as another class. An initiate would move through the stages of initiation until he became one with the Father, in so doing the initiate would become the Father himself.

At each stage of initiation, the initiate would learn a secret code that later, after death, would be used to get him into the heavenly realm appropriate to his rank. This belief in ranked heavenly planes and secret passwords that would allow the individual through the gates of paradise, was widely believed among practitioners of the Hebrew Qabalah (coming out of the Pharisaic Sect), as well as among groups of Christians who had fallen into the heretical errors of Gnosticism.

A ceremony of initiation was called a Telete, from the Greek word telos, meaning goal or end. In the ceremony of initiation, the initiate would first kneel before the Father. The Father would then perform a “laying on of hands,” followed by a rite similar to baptism, wherein the Father would pour water over the head of the initiate from the horn of a bull. Sometimes the rite of water would be done through full immersion.

In cases where the ceremony of initiation was accompanied by an actual animal sacrifice, the initiate would be splattered with the blood of the sacrificial animal or slapped in the face with a shank of meat. In other cases the blood would be replaced by wine.

This rite of blood, wine, or water is referred to as the purgation. This was a ritual cleansing of the individual from the corruption of sin. Sometimes the ceremony of purgation would be completed by passing a torch over the head of the individual, or even touching the individual with the torch in order to symbolize a baptism of both fire and water.

The purgation would be followed by the consecration or coronation, in which a golden crown would be placed on the head of the initiate; this crown was called the “solar crown.” Iconographically the solar crown was analogous to the Christian halo, which term is derived from the Greek; meaning disk of the sun.

There is much in this symbolism that recalls Christian rituals of initiation; so much that I will not even make an argument for how intimately linked the two systems of ritual initiation are. I will simply let the record speak for itself…

It is the same ritual system.

In Roman Mithraism, the initiation ceremony would be followed by a feast meant to symbolize the feast shared by Mithra and Sol.

Ideally, the sacred feast would come from the sacrifice of a bull, but this was not required. While the sacrifice of a bull was central to Mithraic worship, as the cult spread through the empire, and as worship became confined to house churches, it is thought the sacrifice of the bull was replaced with a symbolic alternative. Any sacrificial animal could serve for the feat, or even a meal of bread and wine could be sufficient.

Such compromises were theologically sound because the death of the “Primal Bull” was productive of all “good things” on the Earth; any of those “good things” that come from the bull were suitable to be used in the sacred meal. This meal itself, much like the Christian Eucharist, was thought to be an effective means of salvation for the worshippers of Mithra.

In Conclusion

Among the Romans, the first Christian emperor was Saint Constantine, Constantine the Great, who, prior to his death-bed conversion to Christianity, was also a devotee of Mithras-Sol Invictus. When Saint Constantine was made emperor, the first coins struck in his honor depicted his face with the inscription Sol Invictus.

This is evidence that Saint Constantine thought that he was himself, an incarnation of Sol Invictus. This may seem somewhat confusing considering that it is a matter of historical record that Saint Constantine attributed his victory over his enemies to Jesus Christ, it is understood that Saint Constantine’s famous vision of the Christian symbol, the Chi-Ro (Px), at the battle of the Milvian bridge (312 CE), enabled his victory when his army was at the gates of Rome.

However, in the minds of many practitioners of Mithraism, Jesus and Mithra may have been considered to have been the same person; believing that Jesus was an incarnation of Mithra.

If this is true, it begs the question; if Constantine thought he was Mithra-Sol Invictus, and if Jesus was also believed to be an incarnation of Mithra, did Saint Constantine the Great, think that he was an incarnation of Christ, Christ returned, the Second Coming?

I recommend that you look to the annals of Saint Eusebius his biographer in order to answer that question. What you find may surprise you.

There is one thing that I know for certain, Christianity and Mithraism, both as religious systems and spiritual philosophies, they are both filled with hope: Hope for the life of the individual; hope that the individual will ultimately experience justice. Belief that God is good, and that God has given a light to humankind that will guide us along the way to paradise.

Mithraism was less accessible to the average person than Christianity. Its adherents wanted to keep to its secret ways at a time when Christianity was opening itself to the world, defining the terms of its orthodoxy and rooting out those groups of heretics, the Gnostics, who had those same tendencies that Mithraites did toward secrecy and exclusivism.
Bibliography

Mithraic Iconography and Ideology, by Leroy A. Campbell, published by E. J. Brill, 1968

Mithraic Studies, edited by John R. Hinnells, published by Manchester University Press, 1975

Mithraism in Ostia, edited by Samuel Laeuchli, published by Northwestern University Press, 1967

The Mithras Liturgy, edited and translated by Marvin W. Meyer, published by Scholars Press, 1976

Mysteries of Mithras, by Franz Cumont, translated by Thomas J. McCormack, published by The Open Court Publishing Company, 1903

The New Jerusalem Bible, Standard Edition, published by Doubleday, 1989

The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, by David Ulansey, published by Oxford University Press, 1989

The New Oxford Companion to the Bible, edited by Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, published by Oxford University Press, 1993

The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone, published by Oxford University Press, 1997

[1] By 700 BCE the Royal court of Persia had fully converted to the religion of Zoroastrianism and its demi-god Mithra. However, Zoroastrianism likely emerged sometime between 2500 – 1200 BCE.

[2] The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, by David Ulansey, pg. 8, par. 4

[3] The New Oxford Companion to the Bible, edited by Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, pg.72, par. 3

[4] The New Jerusalem Bible, standard edition, Doubleday, 2 Chronicles 36: 22-23, pg. 448, col. 2, par. 2

[5] The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, by David Ulansey, pg. 40, par. 1

[6] The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, by David Ulansey, pg. 40, par. 1 and pg. 41, par. 3

[7] The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, by David Ulansey, pg. 44, par. 1

[8] The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, by David Ulansey, pg. 45, par. 2

[9] Strabo 64 B.C.E. – 21 C.E.

[10] The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, by David Ulansey, pg. 68

[11] The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, by David Ulansey, pg. 34-36

[12] Mithraic Iconography and Ideology, by Leroy A. Campbell, pgs. 291-305

A Homily – The Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year A)

First Reading – Isaiah 7:10-14
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 23(24):1-6 ©
Second Reading – Romans 1:1-7 ©
Gospel Acclamation – Matthew 1:23
The Gospel According to Matthew 1:18-25

(NJB)

The Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year A)
Listen!

God is not a politician.

The creator of the universe is not a kingmaker. God does not give victory in battle; appointing winner and losers. God, Immanuel, the God of Jesus Christ is with all people, at all times, in all places.

God loves each and every one of God’s children equally.

God stands with all people, whether or not any of them stand with God.

Be mindful of this.

All things and person have their being in God. God is the foundation of all that is. Without God there is nothing, and in nothing there is not even the possibility of being.

If you wish to climb the mountain, to find God, that is fine, do it, God is there. Or, you may simply turn to your neighbor, and see God reflected in their face. God is there.

See them, behold the face of God, in that holy presence give thanks, give thanks with your neighbor, demonstrate God’s faithfulness to you, demonstrate it through love.

Do not worry about your own holiness. God loved you before the creation of the world; when only the possibility of you existed, you were loved. This is true of all things and beings, of everyone; as they are loved by God, they are holy.

Look for God’s blessing in the service you provide to your neighbor, to your mother and father, to your sister and brother. Be justified in one thing, the quality and extent of your mercy, the degree to which you cleave to justice, and the service you give to those in your midst. .

Remember this:

God is not confined to the pages of a book, or by the ink on a scroll, neither is God bounded by the history and mythology of a people. Look to those things for glimpses of God, for the remembrances of past encounters, but seek the living God in living beings.

Always bear this metaphor in mind: the first time we saw God, when the first parent walked with the creator, the world was a garden, and that was paradise. There was no talk of kings, and no talk of glorifying God in battle. Let us return to that.

Do good and reject evil.

Remember, Paul was not chosen. He chose to preach the Gospel.

Remember this, Jesus was descended from David through his father Joseph.

Remember, Jesus was not a lord or king. He was a Rabbi and a healer

Jesus lived among us an example of grace and its fulfillment. He was not a conduit of grace. His mission was not to confer on human beings something that they lacked, but to activate in them something that is inherent, an innate capacity for good and a receptivity of the love of God.

Consider this:

Mary was betrothed to Joseph. Joseph was of the House of David. She became pregnant before their wedding, according to the design God had put in place for the propagation of human life.
Joseph had second thoughts about marriage, and about being a father, but in a moment of conscience, listening to the spirit of grace within him, he made a choice, and he embraced the truth, taking on the responsibility to raise his child.

He took Mary as his wife; he brought her into his house. They named their child Joshua, after the great hero of the Israelites. In that trust they pinned their hopes on him, in that hope and trust (faith) they encountered the presence of God. They knew then that God was with them, inasmuch as they were with each other.

If Joseph had succumbed to his fear and weakness (and that was a real possibility), in that time and place Mary would have been destroyed. She would have become an outcast, she would have had no standing in her community, she and her child would have died.

Joseph was humbled by his weakness and his moment of doubt. In that moment he learned what it means to truly love.

He choose good, he rejected evil.

If you believe it.
First Reading – Isaiah 7:10-14

The Maiden is With Child

The Lord spoke to Ahaz and said, ‘Ask the Lord your God for a sign for yourself coming either from the depths of Sheol or from the heights above.’ ‘No,’ Ahaz answered ‘I will not put the Lord to the test.’

Then Isaiah said:

‘Listen now, House of David: are you not satisfied with trying the patience of men without trying the patience of my God, too?

The Lord himself, therefore, will give you a sign.

It is this: the maiden is with child and will soon give birth to a son whom she will call Immanuel,
a name which means “God-is-with-us.”’
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 23(24):1-6 ©

Let the Lord enter! He is the king of glory.

The Lord’s is the earth and its fullness,
the world and all its peoples.
It is he who set it on the seas;
on the waters he made it firm.

Let the Lord enter! He is the king of glory.

Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord?
Who shall stand in his holy place?
The man with clean hands and pure heart,
who desires not worthless things.

Let the Lord enter! He is the king of glory.

He shall receive blessings from the Lord
and reward from the God who saves him.
Such are the men who seek him,
seek the face of the God of Jacob.

Let the Lord enter! He is the king of glory.
Second Reading – Romans 1:1-7 ©

Our Apostolic Mission is to Preach the Obedience of Faith to All Pagan Nations

From Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus who has been called to be an apostle, and specially chosen to preach the Good News that God promised long ago through his prophets in the scriptures.

This news is about the Son of God who, according to the human nature he took was a descendant of David: it is about Jesus Christ our Lord who, in the order of the spirit, the spirit of holiness that was in him, was proclaimed Son of God in all his power through his resurrection from the dead. Through him we received grace and our apostolic mission to preach the obedience of faith to all pagan nations in honour of his name. You are one of these nations, and by his call belong to Jesus Christ. To you all, then, who are God’s beloved in Rome, called to be saints, may God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ send grace and peace.
Gospel Acclamation – Matthew 1:23

Alleluia, alleluia!

The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son
and they will call him Emmanuel,
a name which means ‘God-is-with-us’.

Alleluia!
The Gospel According to Matthew 1:18-25

How Jesus Christ Came to be Born

This is how Jesus Christ came to be born. His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph; but before they came to live together she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph; being a man of honour and wanting to spare her publicity, decided to divorce her informally. He had made up his mind to do this when the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins.’ Now all this took place to fulfil the words spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and they will call him Emmanuel, a name which means ‘God-is-with-us.’ When Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do: he took his wife to his home and, though he had not had intercourse with her, she gave birth to a son; and he named him Jesus.
The Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year A)

Attrition

This dark attrition, the erosion of reason and cataclysmic
Folly

Aspirations, the flight to Mount Olympus, as the sun melts my wings
Falling

This dark attrition, corrosive identity, a grand deception
Fear

Longing for worship, shattered by the earth, un-done, becoming nothing
Falsity

This dark attrition, the dissembling persona, disaffectation
Failing

A voracious thirst, lycanthropic appetites, licentiousness
Fury

This dark attrition, slighted by the hand of fate, the collapsing will
Frozen

Cut, bruised and bloody, the wind robs me of all warmth, my heart turned to ice
Fragile

This dark attrition, drowning in the frothy sea, pickled in the brine
Forgotten

Nabokov on a Yellow Post-It ©

I found a square of paper, a sticky quadrilateral, I found it
A blank parallelogram, a golden-yellow rhombus, I found
The empty plane of a Post-it note, waiting to be filled
I found a square of paper, discarded in the trash, I saw
Its tightly woven mesh, a golden-yellow net, and then
I found a thought, it fluttered by, these inky-blue letters
The inspiration of a butterfly, trapped between right angels

I thought of Nobokov, a man in love with butterflies
More so than he was with prose, he spilled more ink to record
The subtle variegations, the micro-changes in coloration
Of a butterfly’s wings, denoting their migrations
Than he ever did composing his tomes of poetry and fictions

I remember as a boy, I was told to be careful with butterflies
I was instructed that the barest touch, would brush the “magic”
Dust from their wings, without which they could not fly

A butterfly is pixie-like; floating, flying, gravity defying
Barrie wrote, that with a sprinkle of pixie dust (and a laugh)
The heroine Wendy took flight, she went to war with a pirate
Whose only fear was time, the thing old Hook panicked by
The tick-tock turn of the hands of a clock, Wendy flew
She fought, for the pipe-playing-boy-god (who she loved)
She laughed and went soaring with a Titan named Pan
Carried wingless into the heavens on clouds of pixie-dust

All butterflies bear his image, the face of the horned God
Dancing in the wind, goat-footed Pan the God of wild places
Timeless Pan, God of loneliness and madness, the God of shock
Of feral desire, traits all boys are taught to temper, or become
Lost in the haunts of the inner child, untamed and wild

Nabokov loved butterflies, the chrysalis, he loved beauty
To witness it emerging in the metamorphosis of a worm
He loved the tragedian, the anti-hero, and the tragedy itself
The destruction of tyrants…of self, he basked in the subversion
Of old age and corruption, in the morass of a wild youth
And its lament, he caught in his pages, like a poem on a Post-It
The fragile nature of longing, as delicate as the netted butterfly
That once acquired, lives but a few moments until it expires

Veteran’s Day – A Holiday Reflection

Today is Veteran’s Day, November 11th.

Today we commemorate the anniversary of the end of World War I, the war to end all wars, we were told, though regrettably it was not.

I am a veteran, as is my father and some few of my friends (very few).

From the end of World War I, until 1954, we celebrated this day as Armistice Day, as a remembrance of that moment in that first great-global-conflict, when the fighting stopped along the lines, in the trenches at the fronts.

It stopped suddenly, it stopped all at once.

It came to a halt at the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month; as if the war had a director who yelled “cut!” And all the actors on the stage, all the pawns in the field, all the millions of people in their graves could get up from what they were doing and go home.

That is not what happened.

That never happens.

Nearly twenty million people were killed in World War I, twenty million families broken, with many millions more suffering in the aftermath.

World War I was perceived by those who endured it as so horrible that it would end war itself, end it for all time, but that would not be the case.

The gods of war are busy, always
The conflicts they sew never end, not ever
We hunger and we thirst for war
It is the failure of humanity

Today is the feast of Saint Martin of Tours. He is the patron saint of soldiers, St. Martin of the Sword, he is called.

Saint Martin was the first Christian Soldier.

It was in recognition of him, and his feast that this date was selected to bring World War I to a close.

It might have come sooner for the soldiers in the struggle, but the politicians acting like art directors wanted to wait for a symbolic moment, to bring the curtain down.

11:11:11

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, it was easy to remember.

Pope, Saint Gregory the Great, the man who gave us the modern calendar, he was the one who penned Saint Martin’s hagiography. Though it is not likely that Martin ever even lived. Most of Gregory’s writings were works of fiction, either cut from whole cloth, or steeped and dyed from a scintilla of truth.

All the great Popes were great prevaricators, and great recipients of the penchant for falsehood.

Even if the life of Saint Martin was based on the life of a real person, his hagiography is a fiction nevertheless, our celebration of him is a piece of propaganda, it is just another terrible lie.

Saint Martin’s hagiography is a fable, penned with a terrible purpose, through it Pope Saint Gregory gave permission for Christians to takes up arms.

He gave Christian soldiers leave to march to war, a vocation which had been theretofore forbidden to the followers of Jesus, and a matter of deep contention in the Church.

The spirits of conflict have a will of their own…their will is our own human nature.

There is no god of war, there are only human pretenders.

In 1954, President Eisenhower, the man who had been the Supreme Allied Commander in World War II, he changed the nature of the November 11th holiday; from Armistice to Veteran’s Day, in honor of all Veterans who had fought in any conflict, anywhere in the world.

Friend or foe, ally or adversary, we celebrate the courage of the average person, woman or man, who was willing to risk everything for their tribe, their nation or their clan.

That is what we celebrate today on Veteran’s Day.

We do not celebrate the end of war, because it seems that war itself will never end.

We do not celebrate the fictional life of a fictional saint, whose usefulness as a tool of propaganda suggested that it was possible to serve Jesus with a sword, and we do not celebrate the lie that peace could ever be the fruit of war.

The fruit of peace springs from a different seed altogether.

What we celebrate today is the character of those men and women who have had the courage to enlist, to risk their lives for the sake of their sisters and brothers, whether at home or beside them in the field.

We should always celebrate that quality of character, while simultaneously naming the flaws in our own that lead us to war; fear and greed, anger and hatred, all of our calamitous attributes.

The spirits of conflict have a will of their own…the children of Aries; Fear, Panic and Strife, they own a piece of us each of us.

We are possessed.

One hundred years after the end of World War I, we are still waging war all around the world. We the United States of America are waging war in Afghanistan, in Africa, selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, fighting a war by proxy with Iran in Yemen, and feeding other conflicts in every sector of the globe.

I served in the Navy as a Hospital Corpsman, from 1990 – 1994.

I served during the first Gulf War, though I did not serve in the theatre of combat where we killed 300,000 Iraqi people in the space of a few months.

My father served for twenty-two years; the first four as a Marine, the next eighteen in the Air Force. Our nation went to war once during that time, in Southeast Asia where my father served multiple tours of duty, a war in which we killed 3,000,000 people of Vietnam.

We have killed millions more in many other nations in the decades since then, leaving millions of families broken.

We are terrible, profligate killers, we are experts at it, we Americans.

In the last few weeks we have been talking about how the President of the United States sold out the Kurdish people, a people without a country who have been serving, fighting and dying beside us for the last several years in our conflict with the soldiers of the Islamic State,

He sold them out to the Turks, who immediately set out on a campaign of ethnic cleansing against them. Those same Kurdish people in the weeks leading up to Donald Trump’s betrayal of them, turned over intelligence that led to the killing of the ISIS leader, and Donald Trump took credit for that.

We have been talking about how the President of the United States, in an effort to extort the people of Ukraine withheld vital military support from them, support they needed to defend themselves from the constant pressure of Russian incursion, he withheld that aid because he thought it would benefit his own narrow political interests, and because he believed it would benefit a man he is beholden too; Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia.

Today that same man will participate in a ceremony that honors the lives of fallen soldiers, a man who never served, who lied to avoid the draft, a man without a shred of honor.

It remains true that every bullet we fire, every missile we launch, each of them is an admission of our failure as diplomats and as human beings.

Violence does not beget peace. Violence it begets violence, and so it will always be that way.

Only peace and reconciliation can bring about peace reconciliation.

Love one another; pay respect to the inherent dignity of every human being, regardless of your disagreements, regardless of the pain you are carrying from your past.

To be free from the repercussions of our history of violence requires that we forgive one another and seek forgiveness for ourselves.

If you want to honor our Veteran’s then commit yourself to meet conflict with love, respect all people, even your adversary, this is the thanks you can give to a Veteran today.